Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gifts for Geeks: Gifts That Will Cost You Nothing

Our annual Gifts for Geeks series usually focuses on the material stuff you can buy for your favorite geek. After all, comics collectors need something to collect, gamers need something to game, and movie buffs need movies to...buff. With all the holiday hoopla and endless advertisements, it's easy to forget that some of the best things in life are free.

So you bought your daughter a $2500 light-up replica of Serenity. Have you ever watched the show with her? So you gave your brother expensive front-row tickets to a They Might Be Giants concert. Have you ever met James Ensor or made a little birdhouse in your soul? Becoming involved in someone else's favorite fandom, if only fleetingly, is one of the greatest ways to connect with the geek in your life, and it's even more of a gift if you willingly go outside your comfort zone to do so.

Not everyone will appreciate you leaning over their shoulder while they play Pokémon, and not everyone can stomach a manga like Hellsing, but an honest and unobtrusive effort to understand this "LARP" thing your father goes to can open up all sorts of possibilities in terms of how you relate to one another. Also, it makes gift-giving significantly easier when you can tell the difference between Ice Cube and Ice-T.

Sometimes the geek in your life will approach you and offer up a round of video games or a road trip to some dork convention. In cases where it's clear you'll never understand , you may need to be a little proactive: borrow something from their shelf, or simply ask them what's so appealing about what they're doing and see where the conversation leads you.

I never understood the appeal of having season tickets for a baseball team until a friend explained that it's not just about the game; it's interesting to follow the foibles and triumphs of the people. There's a sort of story behind every team, and this had never occurred to me until I asked. For me, it was all hot dogs and people running around in circles, but my friend's consistent enthusiasm makes much more sense now, knowing that there's more satisfaction in a baseball game than just doing "the wave."

This whole blog was founded on the premise that there's a value in sharing your favorite hobbies and fandoms with others. I relish any opportunity to explain to people that Dungeons & Dragons is not a video game like they thought it was. Give the geek in your life that chance. I own a handmade Strong Mad plushie/lunchbox because I exposed my artsy girlfriend to Homestar Runner. It's so much easier to give personalized, meaningful gifts when you know what you're giving.

Whether you become instantly addicted to Kendal Mint Cakes or have read enough J.D. Salinger to last a lifetime after just a few chapters, any exposure to something a person loves can bring a better understanding of that person. Ask some questions. Offer to try out something you've refused in the past. Volunteer to do something together. Don't be pushy, don't pretend you're suddenly as zealous and informed as they are, and hold off on judgment until after the fact.

Maybe you'll discover a new favorite fandom. Maybe you'll hate it. Whatever the outcome, it'll give you something to talk about, it'll open your eyes to something (one way or another), and it could very well be something your favorite geek will always remember. Can you say the same thing about that destined-for-the-trash-can "I'm With Stupid" belt buckle you're about to buy?

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